Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Nancy K. Miller

Committee Members

Jonathan Gray

Jessica Yood

Subject Categories

African American Studies | American Studies | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies | Performance Studies


sonic feminine, rock and roll, gender, drag, reclamation, counter-memory, discovery narrative, girl groups


Before the Beatles arrived in America, exploding open the intersection between pop music and the emerging genre of rock and in so doing, drawing heavily on the work of Black music and musicians, girl groups were powerfully enacting a kind of cultural rebellion in both of those genres. In contrast to the historical impulse to privilege a breathlessly incomplete white male lineage, "Unsung Heroines" examines in closer, more connected spotlights the subversive creative work of the Black and working-class teenage girls in the Ronettes, the Chiffons, and the Shangri-Las. Across four chapters, "Unsung Heroines" shows how these singers subversively tucked grit, rebellion, sex, wit, and revenge into a genre—pop—thought of as sweet and nice and other things girls should be, and how George Harrison's infamous stolen Chiffons melody offers up a hidden homoerotic love narrative also taken from the Chiffons. Via a trio of new theoretical frameworks—the sonic feminine, the discovery narrative, and the sonic masculine—the project re-centers women's artistic transgressive genius against the restrictive tentacles of gender, race, and class norms. In its amplifying and re-contextualization of women's transgressive genius, the sonic feminine particularly helps delineate and re-contextualize the ways in which each group took charge of their voices and their looks, giving voice and visual to rebellious and erotic feelings and attitudes that their female audiences also had and didn't always have a way to voice. Adapting the traditional tools of close reading and close listening, "Unsung Heroines" shows, with depth and complexity, the need for a constant reshaping of gendered histories we thought we knew.

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